Pentagon chief orders closer focus on preventing civilian deaths in airstrikes
Four-star general to lead Pentagon investigation into Syria airstrike that killed dozens
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered a new investigation into a 2019 U.S. airstrike in Syria that killed dozens of women and children, the Pentagon's top spokesman said Monday.
"The secretary has directed today a review of the civilian casualty incident that occurred on March 18, 2019, in Baghuz, Syria," press secretary John Kirby told reporters.
The investigation will be conducted by Gen. Michael Garrett, the head of Army Forces Command, who will review investigations already conducted on the incident and "conduct further inquiry into the facts and circumstances related to it," according to Kirby.
Garrett will have 90 days to complete the investigation, first reported by The New York Times.
The new high-level review comes after an investigation by the Times, released earlier this month, that detailed the U.S. airstrike that killed 70 civilians and allegations that top officers and civilian officials tried to hide the casualties. The strike, which was carried out by the classified special operations unit known as Task Force 9, was unknown to the public until the Times report.
The revelations have since prompted calls for more transparency from the Pentagon on how it conducts such military operations, and both the House and Senate Armed Services committees have said they are looking into the matter.
Austin appeared before reporters on Nov. 17, telling them that the Pentagon has "more work to do" in revealing to Americans "how we execute missions on their behalf and how we talk about them afterward."
On Monday, Kirby said the new inquiry will include an assessment of the civilian casualties that resulted from the mistaken strike, whether officials complied with the law of war, record keeping and reporting errors, whether recommendations from earlier reviews meant to prevent such a strike were used, and whether anyone should be held accountable. In addition, the investigation will pinpoint whether authorities, procedures or processes used in drone strikes should be altered.
The Times found that the Syria airstrike, which took place as part of the final battle against Islamic State fighters, was one of the biggest cases of civilian casualties in the years-long conflict against the extremist group.
The U.S. military, however, didn't publicly acknowledge the strike until earlier this month.
The classified task force initially investigated the strike but said only four civilians were killed and found no wrongdoing by the special operations unit.
When the task force then sent its finding to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., in October 2019, officials there did not follow up, and senior military officials in Iraq and Florida never reviewed the strike.
Kirby said Austin decided to order the new investigation after he was briefed on the Syria airstrike by Central Command head Gen. Kenneth McKenzie earlier this month.